The MV Cape Ray docked in the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro today and will begin transferring Syrian chemical agents and precursor materials soon, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters today.
The Cape Ray will receive about 600 metric tons of material from the MV Ark Futura, a Danish roll-on/roll-off freighter. The transfer is expected to take two to three days, Kirby said.
Once the chemical materials are aboard the Cape Ray, the ship will “transit to international waters to neutralize the chemical agents in a safe and environmentally sound manner,” Air Force Gen. Phillip M. Breedlove, the commander of U.S. European Command, said yesterday during a news conference.
Two shipboard field deployable hydrolysis systems — developed specifically for this mission — will take about 60 days to neutralize the materials, a defense official said.
“The mission to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program has been a major undertaking marked by an extraordinary international cooperation,” said Ahmet Uzumcu, the director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, one of the organizations overseeing the transfer.
“Never before has an entire arsenal of a category of weapons of mass destruction been removed from a country experiencing a state of internal armed conflict,” Uzumcu said. “And this has been accomplished within very demanding and tight timeframes.”
Syria declared and delivered 1,300 metric tons of chemical materials, the defense official said. While the Cape Ray will destroy about 600 metric tons of that material, the remainder is being delivered to commercial and government facilities in Europe and the United States for destruction.
The materials to be destroyed include sulfur mustard, or HD — commonly referred to as mustard gas — and methylphosphonyl difluoride, or DF, which is a precursor agent to sarin and soman, both nerve agents.
Once neutralized, the remaining material is considered hazardous waste, but can no longer be used to create chemical weapons. The hazardous byproducts from the Cape Ray will be processed by facilities in Germany and Finland, the defense official said.
Joint chemical weapons teams from the OPCW and the United Nations began securing Syrian chemical sites in early October, and the Syrian government handed over the last of its declared chemical stockpiles June 23.
“This is a unique mission, and the whole process has been an excellent example of international collaboration under the joint UN-OPCW mission,” the defense official said.
“We are proud to be able to contribute to this mission, along with our international partners and the OPCW,” the official added. “We’re also very proud of the team aboard Cape Ray who has remained prepared for this mission for several months as the Syrians delivered their materials. We’re pleased that they can now begin their critical work.”